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Aid Worker Fatalities: A Growing Global Trend

Tara Fuller

This undated photo, supplied by the Cooperative Housing Foundation International, shows Stephen D.Vance, an American aid worker with CHF, who was shot and killed as he drove to work Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008, in northwestern Pakistan. It was the latest in a spate of attacks on foreigners in a country battling a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida violence. The shooting occurred in University Town, an upscale area of the main northwestern city of Peshawar. (AP Photo/Cooperative Housing Foundation International)

- American aid worker Stephen Vance and his Pakistani driver -- whose
name remains private for the safety of his family -- were killed
Wednesday by gunmen in northwest Pakistan. The assault is the latest in a growing trend of attacks on humanitarian aid workers in developing countries.

Vance, whose work in Pakistan included directing a job creation and workforce development program for the poverty alleviation
group CHF International, was on his way to work when attackers blocked
his vehicle in a narrow passageway and let out a barrage of bullets.

"Stephen strongly believed in the work we are doing in the challenging Tribal Regions of Pakistan," said CHF International Senior Vice President Judith Hermanson. "He had an unwavering drive to help people help themselves," added Vance's colleague William Holbrook.

Vance's death follows a string of attacks on aid workers in some of the poorest and most violent parts of the world.

A report released by the United Nations
last month documented 490 attacks on UN offices, convoys, and premises
between July 2007 and June 2008, resulting in the deaths of 26 staff.
"At least 63 workers with [non-governmental organizations] were murdered during the same period," adds the UN News Center.

The assaults have increased particularly in countries where
high-intensity conflict has already taken a severe toll on vulnerable

In August, four humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan were attacked and killed by the Taliban on their way home from the Paktia Province, where they were organizing a project to assist children with disabilities.

The four worked for the New York-based International Rescue Committee
(IRC), which subsequently announced the suspension of its activities in
Afghanistan, after 20 years of uninterrupted work in the country, while
it "evaluates next steps."

Aid organizations working in the Horn of Africa have endured similar strikes.


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According to a report released this week by human rights monitor Amnesty International, at least 40 aid workers have been killed so far this year in Somalia, "putting at least 3 million Somalis at even greater risk of malnutrition and disease."

And just two weeks ago, four workers with the international group Action Against Hunger were kidnapped in the Somali regional capital town of Dhusa Mareb.

Indeed, the rising tide of violence,
intimidation, and harassment is forcing aid organizations to cut back
and, in some cases, suspend their operations despite the vast
humanitarian needs of local communities.

After the deputy director of the German charity Bread for the World was shot to death in his home in Mogadishu this July, the organization announced its decision to suspend all operations in Somalia.

"It is intolerable and
incomprehensible that humanitarian workers striving to save lives and
alleviate human suffering in one of the most difficult environments in
the world are being targeted and killed," said Mark Bowden, who heads the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Mogadishu.

The UNDP has since withdrawn from the town of Baidoa, the home of Somalia's transitional parliament, due to rising safety concerns.

Humanitarian staff in Darfur, Sudan are also at risk, where a driver
for the World Food Program (WFP) was shot dead this April while
delivering food aid to people in the embattled region. Due to similar
incidents, as well as the hijacking of trucks carrying relief supplies,
WFP has cut food rations to Darfur by half.

"WFP appeals to all factions in Somalia to respect humanitarian workers
and allow them to carry out their life-saving work at a time when their
skills are critically needed," said Bettina Luescher, a spokesperson
for the organization.

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